By Farai Mabeza
GOVERNMENT has tasked the Forestry Commission to spearhead its command agriculture programme targeting fruit tree production, a Cabinet Minister has said.
The government last year launched the command agriculture scheme to increase production o the staple maize crop and avert imports which has cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars in scarce foreign currency.
The programme contributed about 30 percent of the country’s maize 2,1 million tonne output in the 2016/2017 season.
Command agriculture has been expanded to include fisheries, soya beans, livestock and wheat.
The Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Oppah Muchinguri, said government’s command agro forestry programme would see at least 25 million seedlings of various fruit trees being planted.
“Fruits are in great demand worldwide in places such as China. I would like the (Forestry Commission) board to spearhead this programme and make sure that we have more than 25 million fruit tree seedlings.
“The commission should explore mechanisms to ensure that fruit trees become a successful national programme, which will benefit not only the commission but the nation at large,” she said.
The commission is no longer receiving government grants and is under pressure to generate its own revenue.
In April, Muchinguri launched an agro forestry nursery in Watsomba, Manicaland, which has the capacity to produce three million tree seedlings.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation is producing tree seedlings at Watsomba for the out grower scheme in Mutasa district.
Government has said it will increase funding for command agriculture to nearly $500 million this year, from $192 million during the 2016/17 agricultural season.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has raised concern over Zimbabwe’s expenditure on the programme, which last year widened the budget deficit from an initial target of $150 million to $1,4 billion or 10 percent of GDP.
In its report on the country, the IMF Zimbabwe mission chief, Ana Lucia Coronel, said they had noted in their discussions with authorities that some command programmes were not in the budget.
Zimbabwe lost a number of highly productive fruit tree farms during the land reform programme which resulted in the expropriation of white owned commercial farms.
Very few of the resettled farmers had farming skills and most of the fruit tree farms are now derelict and the new farmers’ agricultural output is now a fraction of the level seen before 2000 when government introduced the land reform.